Let the Good Times Roll

January sixth, the twelfth day of Christmas – which is a non-event for most of the United States – kicks off a seasonal event in New Orleans unrivaled by any other holiday. On January sixth, city officials cut the first King Cake and Mardi Gras madness begins. Like a steam engine picking up speed, the Mardi Gras social calendar begins slowly with serious prep work for the parades, and then climaxes with the final four day blowout of Krewe parades, private parties, and formal balls.

Mardi Gras is everything except a religious holiday. Yet the manner in which some native New Orleanians celebrate this festival could teach Christians a thing or two. They search for a good location to watch the parades on Mardi Gras day. They plan carefully to camp out for the three days preceding Mardi Gras and stake out the area as soon as possible. They invite family and friends to join them. Some families use the same location for decades, reuniting with neighboring families every year. They stock up on supplies and everything they need to enjoy their time before the parades begin. The anticipation grows as everyone closely follows weather patterns and guesses what they will need to take with them.

Christians have a great day to anticipate, too. Jesus told His disciples that He would return one day. He also had something to say about the preparations we should make for His return. In Luke 12:35-36 (NIV), He said, “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.” He wants us to anticipate His return by being properly clothed, well supplied and eagerly awaiting His knock. I gained a new appreciation of one way those exciting preparations might look when I drove into the middle of Mardi Gras.

At six a.m. on a beautiful Mardi Gras day, we drove up St. Charles Avenue to get my daughter’s car. Monday night parades blocked it in the parking garage when she had to work late the day before. We went early so that we could get the car before the streets closed again at 8 a.m.

The view was amazing. St. Charles Avenue, normally a genteel, aristocratic street, had dressed in beads, bling, and carnival masks to put on this party. On either side of the pavement, families had camped out. Sleepy children snuggled in quilts and sleeping bags on inflatable mattresses. Adults crowded around the gas-fired grills sipping Luziane coffee with chicory. Grungy insomniacs finished playing a last few hands of poker.

Many sites contained folding tables and lawn chairs, but we saw many over-stuffed sofas and recliners, too. They all crouched close to the ground, over-shadowed by the tall stork-thin legs of the forest of parade chairs. Later in the day, the parade chairs would lift an army of small children above the press of the crowds. The smell of frying andouille sausage and the sound of “Mardi Gras Mambo” or “Hey Pocky A-Way” blaring from the enormous sound systems filled the air. Already the hawkers worked the street selling Lucky Dogs and Barq’s root beer.

The closer we came to the location where the parades would begin, the more slowly we drove. People wove in and out of the traffic to cross the street. More people were arriving by the minute. Police prepared to barricade the streets as time approached for the parades to begin. A frenzy of excitement and anticipation filled the air.

The excitement was contagious. It seems to us as we drove up the avenue that the people camping along St. Charles Avenue were the standing-still-parade and we were the rolling spectators. This was up-town Mardi Gras, friends and families enjoying Carnival together, anticipating the main event with a “laissez les bon temps rouler – let the good times roll” sense of community.

So how about it? How shall we prepare for and anticipate Jesus’ return? Will we be ready for the glorious times of celebration? Mardi Gras lasts for twenty-four hours. Our rejoicing will last for eternity – let the good times roll!